Part 3 in a blog series
When I worked on investigative stories which raised questions about the actions of businesses, individuals or government agencies, we typically interviewed several people, shot plenty of video and gathered documents. Sometimes the subject of the investigation only emailed a statement in response.
I often had two compelling sides of a story with one side providing me with most of the elements I needed to put together a special report. When appropriate, I tried to find ways to include more information on behalf of the side that was not fully participating. But, especially in broadcast journalism, you can only accomplish so much when one side emails a few sentences and the other is all too willing to grant passionate sound bites, compelling video and important documents.
Many times, I didn’t understand why the focus of the investigation provided only a statement. Did someone have something to hide? Did someone not believe we would deliver fair reporting? Did someone believe the best way to handle such circumstances is to allow them to “blow over”?
Some of the subjects put on the hot seat had what appeared to be the proper people on staff to handle tough questions. They had their own persuasive counter-arguments that could neutralize the accusations against them. But too often, people, companies and agencies took what I assume they consider the safe path and provided a statement that might as well have been uttered by a robot still undergoing beta testing. And when we aired the story, the sound and visuals seemed slanted toward the side delivering all the goods.
If you really want to get a fair story during a case of crisis communications, then open your doors and grant an interview with a spokesperson who I assume gets paid for more than typing out spin. Don’t argue passionately about your position to a reporter on the phone and then only be willing to provide a statement that took someone two days to conjure up. Invite the reporter or TV crew over instead of claiming such a visit will disrupt everyone’s day.
In the end, your preference may remain the story never hit air or made its way to print. But if that’s not one of our options, then you’ll almost always look better when you stand up for yourself instead of hiding behind an email. Even if a company committed an error, the public generally is willing to forgive when someone stands up in front of them and takes responsibility. But only releasing a statement with a logo keeps you sitting in the shadows while someone else shouts out their grievances from a mountaintop.
Don’t be part of the flock. Don’t run so far away.